LA's Hart School District Campus to Get CCTV

SANTA CLARITA -- Security cameras will be installed on Hart School District campuses with the hope they will do everything from deter vandals to pinpoint fallen buildings in an earthquake.

Using a $249,629 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, officials with the Hart Union High School District are working with the local sheriff's station and a consultant to determine the best system for the district's 14 high schools and junior highs.

"We met with local sheriff's representatives and talked about whether we are doing everything we can to keep our schools safe," said Ron Gapper, the district's chief operations officer. "The answer was we could do more."

Hart officials also sought input from Granada Hills Charter High School, which has had security cameras surveying the campuses for about 10 years, said Joan Lewis, director of attendance and discipline.

"They're another tool for us," Lewis said. "It's a proactive way -- we have signs around campus warning that we have video."

That system, she said, has over the years helped identify vandals.

"Some people think it's `Big Brother,' but a lot of people like the feeling of knowing they're in a safe area," she said.

The district secured the grant earlier this year, and the Hart board approved the necessary matching funds last week. They hope to have cameras in place by the next school year.

The focus now is on a security infrastructure that can be updated as technology improves and one that can be expanded with more cameras as needed, Gapper said.

Cameras at the schools' entrances are a priority to monitor who's coming and going -- and more would be added in remote areas of the campuses.

While crime hasn't been a significant problem at local schools, the district has had its share of vandalism and wants to act to quell any future problems, Gapper said.

"Nobody wants to come to school Monday morning and see broken windows and see graffiti," he said. "It doesn't happen very often, but we don't want it to happen at all."

Sheriff's Sgt. Dean Currie is helping the district plan its strategy. The Sheriff's Department would be able to access video from the cameras -- data that could be used to help track suspects should the equipment record vandalism or assault.

"One of the biggest parts is that it's a deterrent," Currie said. "People are less likely to commit a crime if they know it might be caught on camera."

At the same time, sheriff's officials could check video footage to track potential assailants during a standoff or shooting incident or check for toppled buildings in an earthquake, Currie said.

"Columbine obviously has the potential to happen anywhere," he said of the 1999 school shooting in Colorado that left 15 dead and 23 injured.

"This would help law enforcement in a tactical response to end the problem."